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One Rivalry, Two GOATS: Messi vs Ronaldo

Reviewer: Harry Slavin (The Daily Mail UK)

Messi vs Ronaldo by Joshua Robinson & Jonathan Clegg
ISBN: 9780063157187
Format: Paperback

For the world’s two greatest footballers, it is surprising how little is actually known about Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Granted, we know all about their feats on the pitch – the goals scored, the trophies won – and we are greeted by them every day on social media, in adverts and, for the next few weeks, our TV screens during the World Cup. One has even thrown in a bonus round of television interviews to ensure we haven’t forgotten about him.

But there is a difference between what we think we know about these two behemoths of the beautiful game, and what is fact. They have not even reached the plains of retirement and already their myth has begun to outgrow their reality.

‘People think they know this story because we’ve all just lived through this era,’ says Joshua Robinson, one of the co-authors of Messi vs Ronaldo: One Rivalry, Two GOATs, and the Era That Remade the World’s Game.

As Robinson and Jonathan Clegg reveal in their book, a fascinatingly detailed account on modern football’s great rivalry two years in the making, that assumption is very much mislaid.

‘When we started writing the book, we assumed that Ronaldo origin myth about him playing in that friendly against Manchester United and wowing [Sir Alex] Ferguson, and then the deal is done. We assumed that was how it went down,’ says Clegg.

‘We found out that was not the case, that the whole thing had been arranged beforehand, that the deal was even signed, or the handshake happened, before the friendly took place. 

‘That was football folklore at that point, that was established history. To find out it was wrong, we then realised – OK, how many of the other myths deserve greater scrutiny? 

‘When you start digging into the accepted wisdom about them, you realise that it’s not exactly what it was.’

Robinson and Clegg are both reporters for the Wall Street Journal and this is their second title, after their wholly successful first book The Club sought to put the origins of the Premier League under the microscope. 

Having had front row seats for the duration of the Messi-Ronaldo era, there are few better placed to tackle the game’s latest seismic power-struggle.

From revelations on how a red card at Fratton Park against Portsmouth in 2007 was the key to turning Cristiano Ronaldo into the goalscoring freak we know today, to Barcelona turning down a LaLiga proposal in 2021 despite the explicit understanding it would allow them to keep hold of Messi, the pair have extracted a treasure trove of golden nuggets.

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